Why Are Brunello Wines So Distinctive?

Castello Banfi CastleWell, if you are a Sangiovese fanatic, you would know that the Brunello grape is synonymous with the Sangiovese Grosso (aka Brunello) grape…in fact 100% the same. Brunelllo has been a wine varietal since being discovered in the early 14th century about 80 km south of Florence in the area surrounding the town of Montalcino. Thus, the given name for the wine, Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is still considered one of Italy’s best and most expensive wines and is the only Tuscan wine that is not a blend.

You do not have to be a wine snob, nor expert to understand the Brunello wines. The Brunello grape is special for a number of reasons. The first is that the grapes have a longer distillation process than any other grape. The first modern version of the Brunello wine was aged for over ten years. This allowed those families and vintners producing the wine to price them out much higher than the Chiantis, Barolos and other local wines and so began the competitive business of making the Brunello di Montalcino wines.

Wine barrelsWine Enthusiast tells us that there are now two types of Brunellos…old school and new school. “Lovers of old-school Brunello look for the delicately ethereal aromas typical of the variety: forest floor, wild berries, violets and balsam (menthol or eucalyptus) backed by higher tannins and acidity for longer cellar aging. New schoolers are attracted to black cherry fruit and toasted vanilla notes from aging in smaller barrels—characters that yield a softer, consumer-friendly and ready-to-drink wine. Both styles exhibit freshness, balance and power, offering natural kinship to food, especially succulent grilled steaks.”

Biondi Santi Brunello WineThere are primarily two families that still produce these wines through centuries of generational care and passion for the Brunello region, grape and ultimately, wine. The “old schoolers”, Biondi Santi, were said to be have been those who invented the Brunello grape and still practice the extended aging process to create the more elegant, bolder Brunello. Where the American-owned Castello Banfi produces more of the “new school” version of the shorter cellar aging kind, higher production volume and a more mass marketing approach to their wine, with a great portion being exported from Italy. That is not to say the newer school versions are any less outstanding and noteworthy, just more accessible. Production through Banfi is at 60,000 cases annually. The interesting note when we talk about long cellar aging versus the more abbreviated version is that by DOGC standards, even the modern day version of Brunello must not see the light of day through a four year process.

You can start your education of the Brunello wines here at home, but carry out your learning by visiting the town of Montalcino and deciding for yourself what make the Brunello wines so distinct. The ideal time to visit is in early October when the grapes are harvested and the weather makes for an idyllic Fall afternoon amongst the rolling countryside of Tuscany with a glass of Brunello di Montalcino in your hand. 

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